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Why start on Thursday?
Practice pays off for Manteca Unified
Stella Brockman School special needs fifth-sixth grade teacher Robin Bradshaw gets items in order for her classroom. School begins on Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin

It’s a question some parents have been asking for months: Why is Manteca Unified starting the new school year on a Thursday?

 The short answer is money.

“There are actually a number of students each year that — for whatever reason — do not know when the first day of school is,” said Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer.

Messer said after the students and their parents notice that other youth in the neighborhood aren’t around they get the message. Typically they will be at school on the following Monday.

For  each student that doesn’t show up, the district will lose roughly $76 a day in state funding based on the $11,742 school districts statewide received in 2014-15 from Sacramento for  every student that was at school for all the state required instructional days.

This year, the district expects to have 23,500 students attending classes.

Manteca Unified isn’t along when it comes to starting a new school year on a Wednesday or a Thursday. That’s because over the years districts have discovered that if they start a school year on a Monday that a significant number of students won’t report to classes until the following Monday. The switch to a mid-week start has reduced that number considerably.

On Monday and Tuesday teachers will be in staff development programs. Wednesday is a classroom prep day.

Messer noted that due to summer maintenance projects and deep cleaning, a number of teachers can’t get into their rooms any sooner than this coming Monday.

The superintendent also noted that the mid-week start also allows the district’s high schools to schedule critical freshmen orientation days.

“We are a kindergarten through 12th grade district,” Messer said. “People can forget that at times.”

Messer noted cobbling together a school calendar can be complicated given state requirements, instructional needs, and holidays.

Some are critical of the week-long break near the end of October.

Messer said from a practical stand-point it gives the faculty time to recharge.

“It has helped significantly to refresh teachers,” Messer said.

Messer said teaching can be a fairly isolating experience for teachers as they have little time between classes for things such as bathroom breaks.

The calendar as structured with the Aug, 6 start allows finals at the high school level to take place before winter break.

“It replicates the college experience as almost all colleges do the same thing,” Messer said.

It also means students won’t be cramming over winter break for finals allowing them to relax and unwind.

Messer noted few complain about the spring break. He also added that the calendar shortens summer vacation by several weeks effectively increasing student retention of what they have learned.

The calendar includes three staff development days that teachers participate in. That’s on top of 12 hours of outside continuing education.

“We are very efficient with our staff development days considering they cost us $500,000 every time we stage one,” Messer said.

He was referring to the amount of money teachers are paid for a day of staff development.

Manteca Unified has also reduced the number of minimum days this year. Messer said minimum days are key for kindergarten through eighth grade teachers to schedule and conduct parent conferences.